How was 2020 for the Co-op Party – and for local government in particular?
Despite the unusual nature of the past 12 months, we have managed to have our most successful year ever in terms of growing the reach and size of the Party. How we have responded to the pandemic has resonated with people, and we’re ending the year with a record number of members and supporters.
We have worked hand in glove with the wider movement to ensure we were defending their interests and promoting its values and principles throughout the crisis. From ensuring retail workers got the recognition they deserve as key workers to defending Fairtrade, we had tens of thousands of people join us in online campaigning activities, supporting our hard-working elected representatives in achieving important wins for our movement.
In local government, we were planning for elections in May and had even been out campaigning with candidates earlier in the year. That changed very quickly, and instead Councillors found themselves supporting people in their communities who had nowhere else to turn to. Over the last year we have shared countless inspiring stories of the difference they have made, and my New Year’s Resolution is to make sure we don’t lose that as things go back to normal.
How did the Co-op Party innovate during Covid-19 and lockdown?
While many organisations halted their work, we actually increased our output during lockdown. We ran topical online campaigns related to the crisis; provided online local, regional and national conferences; assisted our branches with meeting online; had NEC and diversity network elections; and supported our elected representatives to raise issues in Parliament and town halls – albeit in a very different way.
I’m proud of how the Party went online and was there for our members and Councillors throughout lockdown. Our weekly “Co-operation Live” Zooms and Councillor get-togethers gave an opportunity for people to still come together and hear about issues that were affecting them.
We were a flexible team before the pandemic, and some of us already worked from home, so we were well prepared for the new working environment. There were just a few more interruptions from cats, children and doorbells!
What were the key challenges you faced and how did you address them?
It was the pace of how quickly things changed; both in terms of all our activity having to go online and operating within a fast-changing political environment. Plenty of events, elections and more were cancelled, often at short notice. Nine months on, it can be easy to forget how quickly things changed overnight when we went into national lockdown; but the party rallied to that challenge and all the team worked round the clock to find new ways to keep delivering co-operation.
What were the key issues you campaigned for?
We were campaigning on food justice before the pandemic, but the crisis really brought the issue of food poverty to the fore. Access to healthy, nutritious food is a basic right – children should not be going to bed hungry. It’s absolutely a key issue and this year we really focused on where we can make an immediate change – locally. That’s we launched our Food Justice Finder tool, so people can see what their Council is doing, and how they can help bring about change to their local community.
We’ve also worked with the co-op movement on the growing issue of violence against shopworkers, with Labour & Co-operative MP Alex Norris getting as far as publishing a bill to ensure this issue is being tackled. We also had a key win in Scotland too, with Daniel Johnson MP’s bill having now passed the second stage.
Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to highlight other issues faced by our movement such as childcare guidance, foodbank guidance, funeral arrangements, mental health, co-op governance and more. Outside of issues directly affected by Covid-19, we’ve also been busy: 25,000 people supported our call to keep KitKat Fairtrade, as well as the ongoing campaign to protect the Department for International Development and the relevant Select Committee.
What have you been most proud of in 2020?
Okay, this is corny, but all our members and elected representatives. The co-op movement has made me proud during 2020: we’ve worked closely together and demonstrated how things can be done differently – how communities can come together and how business can care. If it were a specific moment, it would be Co-op MPs getting retail workers recognised as key workers – that change has made a big difference and given those workers the recognition they deserve.
What are the Co-op Party’s plans for 2021? What are you worried about or looking forward to?
Our plans are to grow and continue to be a strong political voice for the co-op movement. To kickstart in January we have some exciting developments to help us do that. We have new regional organisers joining us to help develop local capacity for the party, alongside a new equalities officer to further develop our work in having a more diverse and inclusive party.
The big event for me is the elections in 2021, which will see over 4000 council seats elected in England, Scottish and Welsh parliamentary elections, metro mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners.
We will be standing more candidates then ever, including over 25 police and crime commissioner candidates, and we’re all looking forward to campaigning hard with them. It’s time to get more co-operators elected!
What innovations/changes would you like to see by/for the party / local government next year?
I would like to see us meet in rooms again! That said, some of the digital ways of organising and campaigning have worked really well, widening and diversifying participation. We shouldn’t lose what has worked well during 2020, and those innovations I’m sure will continue.
Though we have huge elections, they will present a challenge in terms of how we campaign as the virus will still be present. I think the party will innovate more online and we have already held training to help candidates with their social media campaigning.
In Wales, 16 year olds will be able to vote for the first time in the parliamentary elections. It is something much campaigned on by our Chair of the Party, Jim McMahon MP and feels overdue for England too. It is an exciting time to engage with younger voters and introduce a whole new generation to co-operation.